Australian Prime Minister Scott Malcom has indicated he’s getting close to the deal of a lifetime for Australians with a letter of intent from Astra Zenica, who are in third stage clinical trials.
Other countries are gearing up for different versions.
But there’s no WHO International Rescue coming.
Instead there’s full-on international non-cooperation and competition.
But a vaccine is appearing on the horizon, and we need to start preparing for a vaccine coming our way, with all the attendant ethical conundrums around it. It’s our one route from this mess towards social and economic stability, but there’s questions to solve:
1. Can The State Make It Compulsory?
No – not here. We have a right under our Bill of Rights (commonly known as BoRA) to refuse medical treatment. So any shot for Covid-19 can’t be made compulsory.
Nothing to worry about you anti-vaxxers.
We New Zealanders have a list of shots called the Immunisation Schedule that you’ll probably recall lining up in Intermediate and High School for, which has been going multiple decades.
Australia doesn’t have a human rights charter, or anything constitutional that would either preclude or enforce compulsory vaccination. I really doubt they’d break the bodily autonomy barrier like that though.
My feeling however is that any employer who does random drug and alcohol testing – that’s anyone in manual labour, or driving anything, or operating machinery – will be tempted to just slip it into the conversation casual-like, rather than on paper, as in “would you like to clean this toilet for the your career here and stay vaccine free, or continue your normal duties?”
Maybe a register of Nons, overseen by the Human Rights Authority or somesuch.
The social force around schools, hospitals, airports, stadiums, and sports clubs will also build up if you choose not to take the cure, shall we say. Social media is going to be one choppy sea of cyberbullying.
So the answer to that question is: who is “we”?
2. Who Will Get It First?
Just as we’ve had consumer fever about toilet paper, and then consumer fever about facemasks, we’ll also get supply fever about the vaccine. For a good few months as it’s rolled out there will be gnashing of teeth as one suburb and then one region appears to get it faster than the other.
Are they going to knock on our door like the tv license van people of old, or like census people used to?
The old? But they’re old. The young? Barely hits them. The middle aged? Smokers? Frontline workers? People in jail? Emergency services staff? Sick people? Community Services Card people? What about those with health insurance – can they jump the queue? Who is “the rest”? And how does that make us all feel? A Lotto draw? Maybe we’ll be all polite like our MMR and Polio shots way back. Or maybe it’s the March of the Undead again.
Where is MedSafe in this? Then where’s Pharmac? How does this allocation system work? Who is in charge of all of this logistical system? Fun times for the health system, particularly if we continue to just make it up and patch it up as we appear to be doing at the border. We’re all having to make this up as we go, stumble, recover, repeat.
The ethics of allocation will be intense as social uproars go, but it will pass.
3. Will It Be Free?
What that means is: will the taxpayer pay, the citizen pay, or a mixed co-payment be the way this is paid for? Nothing is free: even if Astra-Zenica start throwing vials out the back of a truck, there’s big transport and regulatory and standardisation and allocation and administrative costs. For pretty much any medicine in New Zealand, people without special cards part-pay. So then there’s an attendant threshold argument about who is getting what subsidy, and whether that’s all “fair”.
Two days ago Prime Minister Morrison said that if the vaccine succeeded, the Government would manufacture it immediately and make it free for all Australians: “The Oxford vaccine is one of the most advanced in the world, and under this deal we have secured early access for every Australian.” Who knows if we can afford it like that.
My reckons is the first New Zealand political leader to get the word in to Prime Minister Morrison to secure enough for us would score a reasonable political coup. I’m sincerely hoping Prime Minister Morrison isn’t, as the Aussies say, writing cheques with his mouth that his ass can’t cash.
A further ethical question is of course: should you be able to secure your own supply for your own people off Amazon for whatever price, or from Southern Cross by going private, or should it be fully state controlled and doled out at your nearest GP alone? I’d prefer to see us planning for the egalitarian route, but it’s not really enforceable.
4. Should We Wait?
The degree of community infection here remains negligible, and we’ll be back into Level 1 or 2 in no time at all. So surely the people of Brazil or Belgium or the U.K. or India need it a lot more than we do? Why not just see which vaccine is the most effective – just hold off the whole thing for 6 months and see who turns into an Undead?
Some vaccines go wrong. Some vaccine administration goes wrong. It’s rare, but still …
Maybe we’re up for it.
Or maybe we sucked ourselves into believing we’d beaten it and are too bruised to rush to triumph again by jabbing our gut with the first thing thrown at us.
5. And Are We Vaccine-Organised For The Next One?
Should we accelerate the Simpson Report changes to the health system and go even further, as a response to this great thing as bad as the Great Depression, and as confounding? Should and can that be a cross-party agreement on structure and systems, given its social and economic impact?
With the vaccine on the horizon, can we not suck the politics out of this, and get on with arguments about jobs and education and climate and the usual shit? We’ve done it before on stuff like NZSuper, Working For Families, and bunches of other good stuff.
How will we know when we’re strong enough and organised enough to deal with the inevitable variations and next ones? Annual re-shots through work?
Well, we’ve nearly done it with M. Bovis and tuberculosis in tens of millions of cows.
Five million little pricks can’t be too hard.